Gender-specific events banned by school district

CRANSTON, R.I. —  A school district in Rhode Island banned father-daughter dances and mother-son baseball outings because the events are gender exclusive, drawing significant backlash and a call to change a state law.

"I acknowledge many of these events have long traditions and for many parents these types of gender-based events are not an issue," Judith Lundsten, superintendent of Cranston Public Schools, wrote to school organizations.

"However, this is a public school system and under no circumstances should we be isolating any child or their family from full participation in school activities and events based on gender," Lundsten wrote.

The decision came in response to a complaint last May from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a single mother whose daughter could not attend a father-daughter dance because she did not have a father in her life.

Cranston School Committee chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi said the committee soon will consider a resolution asking lawmakers to modify state law to allow the school district to preserve father-daughter dances, according to the Providence Journal Sept. 19.

In addition to father-daughter dances, the school traditionally organized a mother-son outing to a Pawtucket Red Sox baseball game.

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, wrote in a statement Sept. 18 that parent-teacher organizations "remain free to hold family dances and other events, but the time has long since passed for public school resources to encourage stereotyping from the days of Ozzie and Harriet."

"Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella — not even in Cranston," Brown wrote. "In fact, one of them might make a great major league baseball player someday."

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said Sept. 18 he was "utterly disappointed to have such a time-honored tradition under attack in the name of political correctness."

"Traditions like this are what make up the fabric of our childhood memories and definitely contribute to the wellbeing of our children as a whole," the mayor said.

Federal law exempts father-son and mother-daughter activities when banning discrimination, but in Rhode Island, the law could be interpreted to mean all school functions must be gender inclusive.


Published, September 21, 2012
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